Sunday’s Sermon: A Hopeful Promise

When we think of a prophet our mind goes immediately to the prophets of the Old Testament. We think of the ministries of Isaiah, Elijah, Amos, Jonah, and others who spread the Word of God to the people the Lord called them to serve.

A prophet has a very specific and unique calling. Whether in the Biblical times or today, a prophet is called to speak a word from God into specific situations. Often these situations are difficult and filled with dark and depressing moments. In these moments, a prophet’s words are often challenging in calling an individual or group of people to examine their lives and turn to a deeper relationship and dependence upon the Lord. You will not find some of the most challenging words from a prophet on a Hallmark card, because they are pointed and direct and aimed at helping us to see the truth of God’s love.

Today, we heard from one of the most important and challenging prophets of the Old Testament. That prophet was Jeremiah. He is considered among the major prophets of the Old Testament. There are several reasons for this, but for us we will focus on one reason. That is in Jeremiah’s words there is a strong and challenging message for the people, but also a word of hope.

Born the son of Hilkiah, a priest, and raised in a community outside the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was born to be a prophet. Jeremiah 1:4-5 speaks of how the Lord gave Jeremiah a specific purpose and calling before he was even born. His ministry to God was to speak a prophetic word to a people who had fallen short of God’s desires. That people was his own people in Israel.

It’s not an easy calling to be a prophet. That was certainly the case for Jeremiah. He lived in a time where Israel had completely forgotten what it meant to follow God. So much so that when Jeremiah supported Josiah’s reforms to bring the people back in alignment with God’s desire that Jeremiah’s community wanted to kill him. Even his own family was upset with him.

Yet, Jeremiah continued to proclaim the word of the Lord. He wanted to make the people aware that if they did not change their ways they would lose the very land that they hold dear. They would become exiles in a foreign land. Through his prophetic words is a word of warning. If the people did not change their ways they would be forced out of the promised land and lose that which they cared so much for.

Jeremiah was a prophet for 40 years and he would see this prophetic word of an exile lived out. In 586 BC, the Babylonian Empire, led by Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem. The people of Israel were in exile and sent to live in a foreign land.

The exile is one of the key moments in Scripture. It was the event that ended the Davidic dynasty. Heirs of David woud had sat on the throne for more than 400 years. After the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Israel would remain under foreign rule. The people of Israel would now be ruled by foreign kings and leaders.

It was the most destructive moment in Israel’s history up to this point. Their nation was destroyed and the people were displaced from their home. All hope was lost for the people who were exiled from their promised land.

This is the context that Jeremiah lives in and its it the frame of mind in which he attempts to speak a prophetic word of hope. While a prophet’s words are often challenging and attempts to bring us in alignment with God’s desires, a prophet’s words are also words of hope. The hope comes in the remembrance of  God’s promises and purposes for our lives.

Jeremiah, the one who foretold of the coming exile, is also the prophet who would speak words of hope to the people when they needed it the most. These words of hope are found in what is known as the Book of Comfort. Taking up much of Chapters 30-33, Jeremiah’s words are words of reassurance to a community that is in desperate need of hope and good news.

What are Jeremiah’s words to the people? He says God will deliver them from the exile. It’s a promise that the exile would end and they would return home. It’s also a promise that they will be able to rebuild the city and start over. To live this out, Jeremiah follows God’s desires and purchases a tract of land. It is his physical way of giving hope to people who need it.

Then we come to this word we find in our passage in Jeremiah 33:14-18. Nestled in a promise about peace and prosperity, Jeremiah speaks a reminder of God’s promises. He says God will honor his promise of the Davidic dynasty and that the occupier of this throne will save Judah and Jerusalem. He will sit on David’s throne forever. Even more, there will always a Levitical priest who will offer sacrifices to the Lord.

These words must have been comforting to the people of Israel. The Davidic dynasty, which was promised to David in 2 Samuel 7, had been a sense of pride for the community. The Levitical promise connects back to the Temple where the people felt the presence of God and offered sacrifices to atone for their sins. These words of promise and hope would have comforted the people in their times of distress. Their faith and nation would be restored.

But, the promise that Jeremiah references is for something greater. Jeremiah wasn’t looking ahead to a national ruler, but instead to the Messiah who would come and rescue the people out of the bondage of sin and death. Jeremiah is giving them a word of a hopeful promise about the Savior who would soon come.

Jeremiah’s words are like the Messianic promises we find in Isaiah. It features the promise of the Messiah coming from David’s line. An heir who would sit on the throne for all time. There is also the promise of the Levitical priest who would continually present the sacrifice for the people before the Lord. In both ways,

Jesus fulfilled Jeremiah’s Messianic hope. He is the heir of David who established a new kingdom, God’s kingdom, in the world. He is also the High Priest, as Hebrews reminds us, who offered the atoning sacrifice for the people’s sin. Jesus is the one who the prophets foretold and announced as the the one who would establish God’s kingdom in ways never before imagined.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we join with our spiritual fathers and mothers in the exercise of waiting for the Lord’s return. Advent teaches us to wait in expectation for the day that Christ returns and all the world will rejoice in the Lord’s presence. As Jesus says in Luke 21, we never know the day, or the hour, or the moment when he will return. Our way of living, then, is to live each day with the hope that this will be the day that Christ returns.

Does this promise say anything to us today as we live in the every day moments of our lives? I think it does.

The promise of Christ’s return is our hopeful promise this day. We rejoice that Christ has come and we will celebrate his initial coming on Christmas morning, a day in which we remember that God humbled himself by taking on the form of a human so that we could come into a deeper relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. The promise of Christ’s return comforts us and gives us hope as we live in this world. Just as there was a promise of God’s continual presence and the hope of a Savior in Jesus Christ, so too is there a promise in our dark moments that Christ will meet us and guide us through. Today, we cling to the promise that just as he came into the world Christ will soon return.

The promise of Christ’s return speaks to us today. When we struggle with life, we can cling to the hope that Christ is there and Christ will come again. When we are broke and do not have enough money to pay our bills, we can trust in the promise that Christ is there and Christ will come again. When we hear of the threat of wars, the worries of economic turmoil, or the hundreds and thousands of injustices that exist in our world, we can shout out the hopeful promise that Christ is there and Christ will come again.

We do not have to live in this world as if we have no hope. The darkness that exists in our world and our lives do not have to define us. What can define is our hope that the presence of Christ is always with us and the hope of Christ return sustains us. Christ’s return may not happen in a time that fits our needs, but it will happen when it fits God’s needs.

That hope is our Advent promise. It is the promise that sustained Jeremiah in the dark times that Jerusalem faced. It is the promise that we can cling to in difficult days and times that we face in our own lives.

Christ has come. Christ will come again.

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